~ Chief Joseph of the Wallowa Band of Nez perce ~

and The Colville Indian Reservation

His name was Hin-Mah-Too-Yah-Lat-Kekt, which means Thunder Rising in the Mountains. He is more readily known as Chief Joseph. He was born in 1840 in the Wallowa Valley and died on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington still in exile in 1904. His doctor said he died "of a broken heart." From his youth until his death, he was a man of peace. One of his most famous quotes is "Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think, and act for myself--and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty."

He is the best known of Nez Perce tribesman and arguably the most famous Indian in history. In 1855, the Nez Perce signed a treaty with the United States government for 7.7 million acres, which was less than half their ancestral lands, to serve as a reservation for the tribe. However, the gold rush was on and in 1863, the government wanted to renegotiate that amount to less than a million acres. The Head Chief Lawyer (U.S. designated Head Chief, because he spoke English. The Nez Perce and most other Native groups had no such thing as a "head chief," each Band or Clan was headed by their own chief or headman and operated independently from one another. They were connected by language and culture not by politics.) and one of the allied chiefs signed the treaty, but Joseph the Elder (Chief Joseph's father) and several other band leaders refused to sign. This split the Nez Perce into the "treaty" and "non-treaty" bands. The non-treaty bands never signed away their lands. These were essentially stolen from them.





Colville Indian Reservation


Mountains of the Rez

Thos blue-green patches
Those blue-green patches seen from Crown Point appeared to be blue and green tarpaulins on a hillside. Perhaps they were left there from Earth Day.
In 1871, Old Joseph died, leaving Chief Joseph as the leader of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce. Chief Joseph tried to negotiate with the government in a peaceful manner, but to no avail. He eventually agreed to move to the reservation in Idaho and was in the process of doing that, when a few young warriors took revenge for the killing of the father of one of them by white men and killed the murderers in a raid not known or authorized by the group of non-treaty chiefs. When word got out that the killings had taken place the bands of Joseph, White Bird and Toohoolhoolzote along with bands of Palouse lead by Chiefs Hahtalekin and Husis Kute left the reservation and headed east to the Bitterroot Mountains. The other non-treaty chief, Loooking Glass, whose people were already living on the reservation decided not to join them.

It made no difference to white settlers and soldiers that Looking Glass and his people had no connection with the killings. They raided and destroyed his village, looting anything of value, killing their horses and cattle and burning their homes. So Looking Glass joined the other bands in their flight from General Oliver O. Howard, who had been a friend of Joseph.

It was decided that Looking Glass would lead them to buffalo country on the Plains, because he was a buffalo hunter and knew the area and had friends among the settelrs and other tribes. He led the Nez Perce toward the buffalo country of the Sioux, but due to several people being killed because he was moving them so slowly, he was replaced by a half Indian, who also knew the area. When going to the plains proved too dangerous, because of the number of soldiers there and the lack of support from the Flathead, Crow and Cheyenne, they turned north toward the Canadian border to join with Sitting Bull, who was in exile and given a place to stay by the Canadian Government.


I followed the Columbia River for a bit. Those lands across the river are not on the reservation.


At first sight this rock formation (left of center in the left photo and center on the right) appeared to be a finger sticking up on the mountainside. When I worked on the photos, I see it's just a rock ourcropping.


On the right is one of the reservation Powwow Circles with an eagle battling a snake on top
Throughout the journey, Joseph wanted no conflicts and his desire was only to return to the reservation and settle the differences peacefully and to return to his Wallowa Valley. He was overuled by the other chiefs, who believed they would all be killed or jailed, if they returned to Idaho or Oregon Territory.

Their journey took them 1170 miles through the Bitteroot mountains, across the Rockies, all the while skillfully avoiding 2,000 soldiers in pursuit. However, after a five day battle at Bear Paw, Montana, Chief Joseph, seeing his people suffering from hunger and freezing weather, surrendered in 1877, less than 40 miles from the Canadian border. The remaing war chief White Bird took some of the warriors to Canada under the cover of Joseph turning the people over to the Army. To Joseph and Colonel Miles, leader of the soldiers who stopped the flight, it was more a ceasing of fighting and hostilities, not a surrender. Joseph was promised he and his people would return to the reservation in Idaho.

This route is now known as the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Chief Joseph is remembered as both a humanitarian and a peacemaker.

After the surrender of Joseph, both Colonel Miles and General Howard promised that he and his band could settle on the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. Another promise broken. Instead he and his remaining people were exiled in Oklahoma, where many died due to new illnesses for which they had no immunity and the harsh climate of Indian Territory. After about eight years of exile, they were allowed to relocate to the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington and became a part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, The descendants of Joseph's Band still live there.

The Nez Perce Cemetery

Fallen crosses



Joseph's Memorial

Some of the gifts left by visitors




This is new since my last visit and not yet complete


Even though Joseph opposed the war and fighting, he gained high recognition and fame due to the flight. He continued to try to get his people back to the Wallowa Valley until his death. Even the unsympathetic, Indian hating General William Tecumseh Sherman, who was Chief of Staff of the Unitted States Army at the time, could not help but be impressed with the 1,100 mile march, stating that "the Indians throughout displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise... [they] fought with almost scientific skill, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications." However, it was Sherman's decision to not allow the Nez Perce to return to the reservation and place them in the Indian Territory.

North Cascades Range from the Colville Indian Reservation

Looking down into the Okanagan River Valley

Metal sculpture at the Omak entrance to the reservation

Another cemetery

Some unusual grave markers

The Omak Longhouse
Longhouses were the winter homes for most Columbia Plateau Indian tribes. They were up to 120 feet long and housed several families, each with their own section and fire.

The sign reads:
A French nobleman turned priest, Etienne DeRouge, S.J. established St Mary's mission at the invitation of Chief Smitkin in 1886. From a single log cabin, St. Mary's grew into a junior college -- complete with dormitories, hospital, band, museum and baseball team -- which served as a cultural and religious center for the entire area. In 1919 fire destroyed the original college building. Today about 175 Indian children attend grades one through eight. St. Mary's (visible beyond this sign) in the only Indian boarding school in Washington state.
Some wood sculptures near the St. Mary's Mission





St. Mary's Mission church

The not a finger rock again


Some of the rock formations near the St. Marys Mission
This was my third visit to Joseph's gravesite. It will most likely be my last, probably my last visit to Washington. It's a long way from where I normally hang my hat. But something told me to visit Joseph three times. It did not feel any different from the other visits, but I always get a sense of peace when I am there. He was a great man who died from a broken heart over broken promises. May he rest in peace.

Photos from my other two visits are 2002 here and 2007 here.


Music is "Black Cherry Moon"

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